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Welcome to the Chicago Newsroom home page and archive.

The big idea behind Chicago Newsroom is that we assemble involved, knowledgeable people around the table and we yack about the week’s local news. Most often we tap journalists, but you’ll also find historians, political activists, academicians and newsmakers in the mix, too.

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CN August 25 2016

 

The CPS Board was very busy yesterday. They passed a $5.4 billion operating budget, along with  a basket-ful of big-ticket borrowing. There was about a billion for capital projects like new schools and additions, air conditioning and internet upgrades and lots more. Then there was the billion-and-a-half for a short-term loan just to get the system’s cash-flow in order.

Juan Perez, Jr watches and reports on all of this for the Chicago Tribune.

He tells us that the budget has lots of problems. First, there’s the $215 million that the State has promised, and the Board has budgeted to spend, although it isn’t coming unless the Governor agrees that there’s been “pension reform.” But nobody really knows what that means.

“I asked different sets of people about what this grand bargain on pension reform might entail and I get three different answers sometimes,” Perez explains. You know the rules of the game haven’t really been established with enough clarity to satisfy me at this point, or I think a lot of other people. I think different folks are convinced of what the idea might be. Would it be Cullerton’s consideration idea? Would it be getting downstate teachers to pay more into TRS? But there’s so many factors here  and this is an election year not to mention. So what is going to satisfy the Governor? Ultimately it’s got to get his signature…”

And, he says, time is really getting short. “But there needs to be an answer here soon, otherwise you know the district is in all likelihood going to have to come through with some serious level of cuts. And let’s be honest here, this operating budget has already relied on a lot of cuts to schools that we have no reason to believe are fake in any way. I mean schools are expressing a lot of pain coming from this.”

But that’s not all.  CPS baked about another $35 million into this cake that has to come from concessions in the CTU contract, and nobody seems to know how that’ll go, either.

“Is there a deal in sight?,” he wonders. “I don’t know. I think Karen Lewis recently expressed some optimism to me that talks were going pretty well, but that the framework of this deal that CPS offered in late January wasn’t going to fly with members…but the district has sought to make its position very clear that there is not a lot of fiscal flexibility as far as whatever its contract offer might be. So you know, that sounds like an impasse to me, potentially.”

The big question is whether the Union is willing to strike, or could sustain a lengthy one. “If they want a strike what is it that they’re going to walk out on? How are they going to justify it and then how are they going to bring the members back in, too? Especially if the school district and the Mayor’s office are going to continue asserting that the financial framework of what they tried offering back then is going to have to stay pretty rigid.”

But beyond all that, says Perez, that short-term 1.5 billion dollar loan is so huge that it’ll cost about $35 million in interest.

“There is no way this budget works. There is not enough cash on hand to pay bills as they come in without this line of credit – without 1.555 billion dollars in short-term debt. It’s akin to a payday loan,” he explains.

“The basis of the problem is the reserves have been all but completely exhausted. That’s why the Board erected this financial policy back in 2008,” he tells us. “They had wanted this on hand so they could avoid these sort of peaks and valleys as best they could. Those days are over.”

 

However, things really are different this year. There are permanent funding sources in place, in the form of new dedicated tax levies for pensions and physical plant improvements. And even in Springfield, there are hints of actual commitments.

“…there are some differences in the dynamics, I suppose,” asserts Perez.”You actually have legislation that’s passed. You actually have commitments from legislative leaders saying we’re going to get this done. But remember, we’re banking on Springfield. We’re banking on the Capitol. We’re banking on a Capitol that’s in some serious dysfunction right now.”

And the legislators do have a powerful incentive.  “…they all want to get re-elected. I mean we’re presuming that they all want to get re-elected. So things are reaching a point potentially where there’s enough pressure that they know that if this doesn’t come through there’s going to be a real problem.”

We also discuss the new CPS policy that co-mingles funding for special education students with the general education budgets. Some observers are saying that the policy forces principals to choose between the two populations, but principals are told they must satisfy the special-ed needs first. Perez says it puts principals in a difficult position with the school’s parents.

“The question is whether the slice of the pie that I’ve been given now to pay for this is A) substantial enough to cover all the needs of my special education students, B) whether I’m going to have to dip into other funds that are meant for other purposes to help make that work before taking care of my general education population, before taking care of the rest of my students. And so when you’re sitting here in the school office with your ledger trying to make the numbers work, oftentimes that leaves principals with a very difficult decision, and I think that’s what a lot of the pushback that you’re seeing from the community right now, like how is this actually going to work? And what ultimately happens, some folks are saying, is that it creates, or has at least the potential to create, a schism within a school community, where the needs of one population are pitted against the needs of another population.”

You can read a full transcript of this show in Word format HERE:CN transcript Aug 25 2016

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CN Aug 18 2016

 

“Milwaukee has such an extremely high unemployment rate for black men,” explains NPR’s Cheryl Corley, having just returned from covering the unrest there over the past few days. “They have the highest incarceration rate in the country for black men, and so you have all of these problems that exacerbate the kind of situation that happens there and it really frustrates people, so you have this kind of powder keg kind of waiting to explode. So when these things do happen in communities you see what happened with the riots that broke out there, the arson that occurred. There’s no excuse for that sort of thing happening, but you have the conditions there that make it happen.”

We’re talking about the similarities between Chicago and its northern neighbor, and trying to see what we might have in common.

“These are things that are created by forces bigger and stronger than the police,” asserts Black Star Project‘s Phillip Jackson. “And then after these problems are created they send in the police to tamp down the communities of violence. The police have no chance of succeeding in that situation, none.”

“On this past 4th of July weekend last year 65 people were shot in Chicago,” he continues. “And so Superintendent Johnson ramps up and he brings in 5,000 additional officers, the State Police, Cook County Sheriffs, Chicago Policemen who would have been off. He brings in 5,000 additional officers, and they call it success, because instead of having 65 shootings they had 63, and that’s my example. There are not enough policemen in China to stop what’s happening in black communities across this country.”

The police can’t be blamed for the underlying dysfunction of unemployment, disinvestment and sub-standard education services. But Corley says there’s plenty of blame for them to share. She cites as an example Philando Castile, the man shot near Minneapolis in his car by a police officer as his girl-friend live-steamed the entire event. Corley was there for NPR, too.

“Philando Castile seemed to be a target,” she claims. “He was stopped during his lifetime in 46 traffic stops. The first time he was stopped was before his 19th birthday when he still had his learner’s permit, and the last stop of course on July 6th. I believe that was the day when he died. But yeah, he was stopped. It was a life of traffic fines and being stopped by the police.”

Jackson adds that a major aspect of the sour police/community relations is recruitment. “There was a quote that came up once that I would like to repeat, ‘you cannot serve us if you don’t know us’ and that’s where we are with the Chicago Police Department. They are trying to serve and protect people that they don’t really know, and it’s never going to be as successful as it could be.”

Despite decades of trying, Jackson says the racial composition of the police force in troubled African-America neighborhoods is far out of sync with the communities.

“It is absolutely important. And my point is that a part of the fix for policing in Chicago has got to be adding more high quality African American candidates to the pool. It’s got to be. Now, I’m not blaming the Police Department here. Chicago Public Schools have a part in this as well in terms of producing people who can become candidates, but the Police Department if they are going to be successful they are going to have to be reflective of the communities that they are working to serve and protect.”

We talk at some length about the changes being brought about by the availability of video from dash-cams, body cams and civilian smart-phones. Corley says this could compare to another historic moment.

“When we look at all these cases and we look at all this video that comes through,” she says, “I often think about what made change happen. If you think about the Civil Rights Movement it was a photograph that kind of galvanized that with Emmett Till, right, when his mom decided I want the world to see this. And so what you have happening with these videos now is that people are seeing things that are happening and you have to believe, because a lot of times people don’t believe.”

Phillip Jackson tells us about a major effort to bring masses of people into the streets in ten of the most violence-plagued areas of the city during the Labor Day weekend. It’s being called Community Peace Surge, and it’s in response to the FOP’s call for police officers not to work overtime during the challenging weekend.

 

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We ask him whether it will be difficult to convince people in the most violent neighborhoods to come out of their house and demonstrate their support. He acknowledges that it could be tough. But, he says, “You can live your life being afraid and probably the bad things that you think might happen they’re going to happen anyway, or you can live your life being unafraid and working towards the kind of community and the kind of City that you deserve.”

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CN Aug 11 2016

 

Imagine if your workplace introduced a new body-camera program. Every meeting,  every movement on the factory floor or in the delivery truck – all of it – gets uploaded each day to the company’s web site. And maybe a random hallway conversation, too. Make you a little edgy?

Well, Chicago got a whole group of new TV stars last week, but they weren’t exactly seeking fame. Three officers were relieved of their police powers and taken off the street pending an investigation into their handling of the Paul O’Neal shooting after their body cams revealed some questionable procedures.

We’re all in uncharted waters. The public has never had a nine-camera video compilation of a police shooting before, in high def with pretty crisp audio. It begins with a nail-biting high-speed run along South Shore streets as officers go searching for the now legendary black Jaguar. They find it – when it crashes head-on into them. And we have a front-seat view. In the adrenaline rush that drives the chase from the two smashed-up cars, it’s pretty clear that one of these officers is the individual who ends up shooting O’Neal in the back. Maybe it happened in the alley, but maybe he was already shot  in the car by other officers firing from behind. It’s an amazingly chaotic scene. But is it unusual? The video take us right into the middle of the action, where we’ve never been before. And it’s important not to rush to judgement.

(You can see all the videos, via the Tribune HERE.)

Jeremy Gorner has been covering the O’Neal shooting as part of the Tribune’s excellent crime beat. Carol Marin has covered police/community relations for decades on television and print.  Both join us today to help us understand the videos.

“What I believe superintendent Eddie Johnson saw and acted upon quickly were certain basic tenets that were violated,” Marin tells us. “Among them, you don’t draw your gun in the car. Why? Because you may be slamming on the brake and you may end up shooting in that car. You don’t fire at a moving vehicle that’s moving away from you when you don’t know who’s in there, and when the vehicle is the only thing right now at issue. Your life is not at stake. And when you’re firing you’re not firing at the same time that a police car is coming in, so that the trajectory of that bullet could go not just to the offender, but to your fellow officers.”

“I think there’s two issues here,” adds Gorner. “There’s, was the shooting justified or was the shooting because of lack of training. And I think that people look at that video, just from talking to experts, talking to other police officers there clearly were some serious training issues based on looking at that video. The problem is is that the actual fatal shot that killed Paul Neal we don’t know what happened because that wasn’t captured on camera.”

“For the first time we’re seeing how all this stuff kind of works, and I think it’s kind of an education for reporters too,” Gorner continues.” Whenever we go to crime scenes we have the lens from behind the yellow tape, and yeah, we can eavesdrop on what police are saying to grieving families, what they’re saying to witnesses the best that we could, but you know, this kind of takes you within a crime scene.”

The training issue seems to be the one thing on which most observers and stakeholders seem to agree.

Second City Cop is the blog that  gives voice to police and represents the views, often anonymously, of everyday officers. It was quick to identify poor training as a major culprit.

“They did,” says Marin, “and over three days and in pretty granular fashion they, and they said you may not like this fellow officers, you may not like this, and they raised among many issues the business of drawing your gun in a vehicle, firing at a moving car. They really dissected this with police eyes and with an eye to… A friend of mine is a brand new Chicago police officer, and I sent to a family member of his the Second City Cop citation saying for no other reason than just observe this as a training exercise. Take a look at what other police officers have decided to say. A lot of people don’t like Second City Cop. It can be a pretty toxic website, but it also can say some more trenchant things about what’s going on.”

But, says Marin, there are other issues, including the age-old discussion about diversity in policing.

“What we also saw from that video is that there wasn’t much diversity in an African American neighborhood. There was, I saw only, and I didn’t see all of them, but I think only one African American white-shirt, right, sergeant, I think an Hispanic officer…but virtually everyone else on the scene was white. And one of the complaints that you hear from the community and one of the issues raised by the taskforce that the Mayor appointed was that the community doesn’t see its face reflected in the people who patrol its neighborhoods.

So do the Mayor and Superintendent Johnson get credit for the remarkable release of video?

“I mean they had to do it, right?” asks Gorner.  “Laquan McDonald was a total game-changer, and had that video not been released who knows what changes would have been made or would have not have been made?”

“Or is it about time? ” Adds Marin. “And frankly, for those of us who are still fighting with Freedom of Information Act Requests, for the Law Department, Police Department, IPRA even under a new day we are still not getting the documents or the materials that the public is entitled to with the speed outlined under the law.”

We also talk about the CPD’s “predictive policing” program  in which the police attempt to predict who is in danger of being involved in serious trouble, such as getting shot or shooting someone else. And we ask whether the agreement with the ACLU earlier this year that resulted in the effective elimination of “contact cards” which were a favorite of former Sup’t McCarthy, and also resulted in a dramatic reduction of police stops, is related to he simultaneous spike in shootings.

Gorner says it’s not as easy a connection as it might seem. But there’s another possible factor – and it has to do with how much money some police officers can make.

“There’s an overtime program that was established for officers in the last few years. After Hadiya Pendleton died they boosted it where they put maybe a couple of hundred officers each day working in like the 20 most violent neighborhoods. And in order to be eligible for this overtime program you have to fulfill… It’s not a quota so to speak, but in a way it’s like, I don’t know, I mean they describe it as a quota. In order to be eligible for the overtime you have to make X-amount of arrests each month. And you’ve got to stop X-amount of people. That’s how it used to, I don’t know if it still is, and you have to write X-amount of contact cards…When the contact cards were around. So you figure, I mean a lot of police officers I talked to speculated that there’s an incentive to writing contact cards, because you want to get that extra money to work overtime”

And we ask whether the scathing report the Justice Department released this week on the Baltimore Police Department might the predictive of the one that’s still to come about the Chicago Police.

“It’s the template,” asserts Marin.  “It’s the template that the Justice Department will apply I think to this City as well. And if you look at what they wrote about Baltimore and you compare it what the taskforce analyzed about racism, police problems, governmental problems, the economy, the community, I think what you see in Baltimore is like a transparency you’re going to simply superimpose largely, and it’s what justice is going to say about Chicago.”

 

 

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CN August 4 2016

 

Pensions are back in the news. Mayor Emanuel wants massive increases in water and sewer fees to fund the big hole in the Municipal Employees pension plan – the fourth, last and largest of the City’s own pension funds.  The Fire, Police and Laborers pension plans have ben put on track to solvency, he says, with last year’s property tax increase and an imposition of telephone taxes, etc.

So, what of the teachers? The Chicago teachers pension fund, as we all know, is still way out of whack. But CPS did make its $600-million-plus payment recently, and CPS won its argument to get about $200 million annually from the state to help get the fund into a stable condition.

But…

And there’s always a “but.” In this case, CPS only gets the money if the Legislature is able to pass “pension reform” before January 1. Considering that Chicago has been arguing about pension reform for decades, does that seem possible?

“Well,” opines Fred Klonsky, the highly regarded blogger and activist, “of course the first question that any teacher, any public employee who is dependent on a public pension for their retirement asks, what is that reform going to look like and who is going to pay for it? It wasn’t exactly clear when that story broke exactly what it meant and who was going to sit at the table to bargain or negotiate what the pension should look like, what pension reform would look like. Because when I look at it the only real pension reform that the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago can come up with is to figure out a way to raise enough revenue to pay its promise to the employees of the City and the State.”

See how easy this’ll be? Just make sure everybody gets paid, and everybody’s happy.

We talk about what could possibly be on that table, including later retirement, increased pension contributions for new hires and other plans that have often been proposed as “reforms.”

You can read a full transcript of this conversation in Word format HERE: CN transcript August 4 2016

 

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CN July 28 2016

 

Three of Chicago’s most knowledgeable political heavy-hitters are at the table this week to talk Hillary, Bill, Barack, Michelle and Bernie (and Rahm).

Bruce DuMont, host of Beyond the Beltway, gives us the quote of the day.

“I would say that at this particular point in time I believe that Donald Trump will be elected President of the United States.”

Jacky Grimshaw,  whose political service dates back to Mayor Washington’s administration, explains that she knows the feeling of being part of a losing political campaign, but doesn’t think there’s an excuse for interrupting , for example, Leon Panetta while he’s at the podium..

And Steve Edwards, of the Institute For Politics at the U of C, schools us in some very interesting electoral facts. “What gives Democrats some comfort is the idea that they’ve won the popular vote, the Presidential election five out of the last six times. They look at States that they won during those times. You add up those States and I don’t have the exact number, but it’s roughly 220 or 230 electoral votes,” he explains.

So there’s a historic base that favors the Dems. And remember, 270 is the winning number.

“You look at the same for Republicans,” he continues, and “it’s about 114 or something like that. So Democrats look at that and they say, ‘That’s terrific. You add to that the demographic numbers and you say in 1988 George H. W. Bush won about 60% of the white vote in a landslide. Mitt Romney won the same percentage of white voters and lost pretty handily to President Obama, and they say we’ve got demographics on our side.’”

But this, the panelists agree, is not a normal election. Both parties are dealing with seismic shifts in their electorates.

“I don’t think anyone back in July of last year thought that Donald Trump would be the nominee of the Republican Party,” Grimshaw tells us. “It was just too outrageous a thought to think that this huckster in a way, this carnival barker would end up being the nominee of the Republican Party.”

And few Democrats foresaw the Sanders “revolution”, either.  So both campaigns are fighting dual battles – to win over more votes, but also to hang on to the disillusioned portions of their bases.

For example, Edwards tells us the Democrats have never, ever won, in a national election, the college-educated white vote.  Even today Donald Trump is leading in that category. And that battle really comes down to a razor-thin margin between 70 and 74% white voters. If 70% or lower of the total electorate is white, the Democrats will do well. 74% or higher, that’s good for the Republicans.

There’s much, much more in this hour-long discussion about the inside workings of politics. And an interesting diversion into the political fortunes of our nationally-diminished Mayor.

The bottom line: Three experts, with widely differing experience and opinions, agree that this presidential election is far from a sure thing.

You can read a full transcript of this how, in Word format, HERE:CN Transcript July 28 2016

 

 

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CN July 21 2016

 

Carolyn Grisko and Chris Robling have been in the political  and communications consulting business for years. They’re as experienced in their fields as anyone you’ll find in Chicago. But they admit they didn’t see Trump coming.

“When he said, the Mexicans coming here are rapists and murderers,” Grisko remembers,  that was the moment that I thought, all right, this is a ten-minute campaign. It wouldn’t even be conceivable to me.”

But, as we know, it didn’t happen that way.

Grisko and Robling don’t agree much on the issues, but all three of us have known one another since our days together in the 80’s, so it was an energetic, but respectable conversation.

No time to sit and watch? How about grabbing our new Soundcloud link, where you can listen to this show on your personal device? (And you can always subscribe, so Soundcloud will send you a link every week.) LISTEN to this week’s show here.

AND, here’s the complete transcript of this show, in WORD format:CN transcript July 21 2016

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CN July 14 2016

 

Suppose your elementary school is really overcrowded, and you think maybe a new school’s needed in the area, or at least a nice addition to your current school. How do you go about getting it?

Well, there’s a process. It’s just that nobody really knows what it is. But there are some hints.

WBEZ’s Sarah Karp and Becky Vevea got themselves a copy of the CPS Master Facilities Plan, and have been snooping around in it.  They were trying to figure out how two schools in affluent areas were able to each secure $20 million additions despite the fact that there were many other schools with far greater overcrowding issues.

In fact, they concluded, two-thirds of the six hundred-million spent or allocated by Mayor Emanuel has been spent at schools with at least 25% white enrollment. And considering the fact that the student population is less than 10% white, that’s a very small number of the city’s schools.

“The decisions about where to build, where not to build, who is going to even get the new roof, right, who is going to get the new boiler? It’s done in such a vacuum, Karp asserts. “You know, we have this masters facilities plan, but nowhere in the master’s facilities plan does it say you’re first, you’re second, and you’re third. Where are you on a list? It’s sort of like…there’s no way for anybody to tell. So then you have Rahm Emanuel having these private meetings with parents, giving out little presents.”

It’s made all the more complicated  when one considers that, in the past few years we’ve seen Hispanic families holding lengthy hunger strikes to call attention to the need for new schools in Little Village, and African-American families holding a lengthy hunger strike to win a new high school to replace Dyett.

“They wait and they starve themselves to get things,” Vevea explains, “whereas for whatever is going on in the outer ring around the Loop right now it’s like somebody mentions it at a cocktail party and all of a sudden you will get an annex. It feels a little like these came out of nowhere. ”

Karp’s and Vevea’s recent story about how construction spending advances segregation uses several examples of policy-makers turning their backs on solid, adjacent schools that could have been dramatically improved for the money spent on additions, in at least one case less than a mile away.

They describe the situation with Lincoln School in Lincoln Park, given a 20-million dollar addition, while chronically under-enrolled Manierre sits about a mile away with an almost totally black student body.

“Why is the district willing to allow this isolated school, it’s a racially isolated, economically isolated school – to exist in the middle of one of the best neighborhoods in the City?” Vevea asks.  “We’re not talking about shipping kids into one of the dicier neighborhoods of the City. We’re talking about Old Town.”  She points out that expensive houses have been built right adjacent to Manierre, but middle-class parents (both black and white) won’t consider it. We’re left to ponder what might have happened if the $20 million had instead been spent on this classic, struggling neighborhood school.

A similar issue exists along Ashland Avenue just west of the wealthy West Loop community. Skinner West, a relatively new school, will also be getting a $20-million addition, despite the existence of Brown just six blocks north, but west of Ashland.Skinner is considered over-crowded because it has a city-wide gifted program with 600 of its 950 students attending from all over the City.

“In the case of Skinner West & Brown,” asserts Vevea, “the District could have decided to move the gifted program to Brown. You know now they say we’re going to give Brown $5-million and make it a STEM school. It’s still I believe going to have a neighborhood component, and yes, that will be a very good investment for Brown. I go back to my earlier point though, unless Brown is able to attract the new residents that school will remain segregated. That school will remain in a racially and economically isolated situation.” That despite the fact that it is geographically, if not socially, only a few blocks away.

Obviously, the CPS planners are dealing with powerful social forces. As Education chief Janice Jackson told WBEZ, there’s only so much she can do. At some point parents have to believe the schools are worthwhile and send their kids there. If they don’t do it,”they have choice”.

Over the years, CPS has tried building new, quality schools in minority neighborhoods with wide boundaries, but they don’t attract students from outside the neighborhood. “There are schools in Austin, now this is shocking, there are schools that are the highest rated in Chicago Public Schools in Austin, in brand new buildings because Mayor Daley built some very new buildings all over Austin in the mid-2000s,” Karp explains. “But that is on a whole different planet than somebody who lives in Edgebrook. I just don’t… I mean I guess that’s something we have to discuss as a City.”

But Karp concludes that, after years of reporting on CPS, there’s one certainty. “That parents actually want good neighborhood schools. They want good schools that they know they can get in.”

Yesterday, after months of wrangling in Springfield resulted in cash infusion of possibly $600 million, CPS was able to cobble together a budget. Despite the fact that about $250 million of the pension relief funding is predicated on some kind of “pension reform” being passed before January, Karp says CPS is moving full-steam ahead.

“We’re counting on it. We’re already budgeting for it, so the damn money better come in.”

You can read a full transcript of this show in Word format HERE: CN transcript July 14 2016

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CN July 7 2016

 

Something truly unusual happened in Springfield last week. How can you tell? For the first time in memory, Forrest Claypool appeared in public…smiling. More than smiling, he had a huge grin on his face, matched by the Mayoral smile and Janice Jackson’s happy face. The occasion was the opening of the fiscal flood gates, with as much as $600 million flowing into CPS, assuring that the schools will open on time in September.

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(Sun-Times photo)

But nothing’s ever that simple in Illinois.

A promised state payment of $205 million toward CPS teacher pensions, we discover in the small print, won’t arrive until 2017, and then only if  by January the Legislature is able to pass “pension reform”, however that’s defined.

But at the Mayor’s press conference, that issue was brushed aside for the celebration.

“The schools are going to open,” Tribune City Hall reporter John Byrne explains. “All those smiles were – schools are going to open.”

“They wanted to get out of Springfield and say schools are going to open and that the road construction projects would not stop,” adds WLS-AM morning anchor John Dempsey. “And they are putting everything off until after the election.”

“And by the way, we’re not going to have to have 50 kids in a classroom,” Byrne says. “Which was the other big thing. And Emanuel weirdly at the end of that news conference was taking questions and then just looked directly at the cameras and spoke to the parents of Chicago and made this sort of valedictory speech about his accomplishments. And then his people pushed all of us really hard in the next 48 hours to frame this thing as a victory for the Mayor. I mean the Emanuel press operation is never subtle, but even for them this was a really hard sell…”

On Wednesday, there was a hearing at City Council chambers, but the public was not in a charitable mood. With little notice, the public was asked for its input about the Mayor’s attempt to replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a different, supposedly more independent board.

“But people were not happy with the way these hearings were set up,” Byrne explains. “Including the head of the task force, Lori Lightfoot, who said you can’t be doing weekday…a couple of weekday hearings …At City Hall and the people who are really impacted by police misconduct to be able to get down there to voice their opinions and have any input into this.”

And there’s always the issue of just how much this public input really counts when it comes to writing the ordinance. “It remains to be seen how much any of this testimony plays into the final product that comes out of Emanuel’s office,” says Byrne.

Chicago’s new police Superintendent Eddie Johnson has his hands full. Facing a bloody July 4th weekend, he flooded the most violence-prone neighborhoods with thousands of extra police officers, and arrested 88 people on the Department’s list of known violence-prone individuals. On Sunday evening it seemed to be working, and he held a press event to announce the good numbers.

“Because at that point on Sunday there had only been about 20 or 21 shootings over the long 4th of July weekend, and he was maybe doing a touchdown dance in the end zone prematurely because the weekend wasn’t over yet,”Dempsey tells us.

“It got ugly,” Byrne adds. “It got ugly after that.”

“In a 15-hour span Monday into Tuesday half of the weekend’s 66 shootings took place in that 15-hour span and that made Eddie Johnson really look bad by prematurely bragging about how great the police did,” Dempsey asserts.

“And then we ended up higher than we did the prior 4th of July weekend,” Byrne points out.

“Right,” says Dempsey. More shootings than last July 4th, and Rahm spun it by saying, “Oh, but there were fewer fatalities, fewer homicides than on any 4th of July weekend in the past 8 years.”

And what about those 88 people arrested before the weekend began? Byrne says it helps with the statistics. “They were saying, We’re going to get these guys off the street this weekend. Go get them off the street. Find a reason to get them off the street. And if they have drugs you take them off the street, and then they don’t get shot and they don’t mess with your stats on the 4th of July weekend and you worry about it next weekend.”

Another curious statement at this press event involved police staffing levels. Johnson hinted that the Department might need more officers, something that Emanuel and former Chief Garry McCarthy have always denied. So what’s the politics of this ?

“When you hire Johnson to be your police superintendent though, Emanuel did this in large part because he needed somebody in there who the rank and file guys trust, Byrne explains. “And a statement like this from Johnson, it wasn’t like he was out there saying, “We need to hire more cops,” but he’s at least out there a little bit acknowledging what the FOP says, acknowledging the truth as seen by rank and file cops. And maybe from Emanuel’s perspective it’s worth it to have a little bit of friction with Johnson on this because he needs Johnson to rally these guys to be aggressive.”

“And I think Emanuel and Johnson have to walk a fine line between saying to the community, “I’m with you. I don’t want to have brutal cops,” and saying to the police officers, “I have your back. You are the last line of defense…” adds Dempsey.

“Johnson can maybe go a little farther over that line than him,” says Byrne. “And Emanuel may be saying, I don’t know whether Emanuel said, “Yeah, go ahead and suggest that we may need more cops,” but now that Johnson’s done that, you know, Johnson, at least to the rank and file cops… Eddie finally said what we’ve all been saying for the last 5 years. He’s better than McCarthy.”

Finally, there’s agreement  that much of the budget maneuvering was about getting something done before the November elections, but John Dempsey says it might not help Bruce Rauner.

“I don’t think there’s any way that the Republicans can seize control of the Illinois House. I think their best hope would be to reduce Madigan’s…the veto proof majority. So, let’s say that Rauner fails and that not enough Republicans win for him to cut into Madigan’s veto proof majority. What does he do in January? Now we’re in January of 2017. Rauner has to be re-elected in 2018. Does Rauner back off from his agenda?”

You can read a full transcript in Word format HERE: CN Transcript July 7 2016

 

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CN June 30 2016

They did it. The government of Illinois, in an almost unheard-of period of cooperation, agreed to a budget, of sorts, that will allow Illinois schools to open in September.

It’s only a six-month budget, designed, frankly, to get the elected officials just beyond the November election. At that point they’ll have a  clearer sense of the State’s political picture, and they may find it easier to work toward a more permanent solution.

The schools, though, got 12 months of funding, and CPS even got a little extra cash – and permission to raise Chicago’s taxes to pay for teacher pensions.

Just before the vote, we sat down with Politico writer Natasha Korecki. Her daily Illinois Playbook is an indispensable digest of local and state news, and she’s been following the Springfield saga closely.

“So there’s social service funding in there,” she begins. “There’s MAP grant funding which was huge for Madigan. That was one of the things he really wanted. Chicago State will get an infusion, so there’s some higher ed money in there. There is capital projects money, so they are talking about 30,000 workers who are unionized, they go back to work. If you’re a Democrat and Unions are your bread and butter how do you say no to that? So there was a little bit of something for everyone.”

Politics, of course, is in every nook and cranny of this agreement. Both sides had a vested interest in delaying really serious budget negotiations until after the November elections, because that’s when they’ll  know who’s on which team.

But the fact that the Governor agreed to let go of his “turnaround agenda” today might indicate that his political calculus is changing a little.

“How do you pick up seats when what you’re looking at is Trump on the top of the ticket in a very blue state in a presidential year, there’s higher democratic turnout…? Korecki asks.

And Hillary Clinton is popular in Illinois one presumes?

“Yes,” she says. “I mean she had a harder time in the primary than was expected, but yes. And you can argue that downstate is Trump territory and so forth, but other things, you’re looking at all these contested races. So the Governor is trying to not… He’s trying to win seats and now he’s looking at well, there’s money that’s not going to prisons in some of these districts that are contested. These Republicans are going to lose their seats. Schools might not open. Who is going to wear the jacket for that?”

One factor that might have helped CPS was the Emanuel/Claypool effort to recruit school superintendents from districts across the state, who stood with Chicago in arguing that their schools, too, have insufficient funding for low-income and special-needs students. “Their strategy then and even this week was – look at who else benefits,” Korecki explains. “It’s not just the City of Chicago. It’s Peoria and Waukegan and all over the State, and in this Senate Education Bill they did something similar where there was analysis looking at far south Illinois and those districts that are really hurting. They are going to get money. So you’re bringing more people in that way.”

We talk about George Lucas’ announcement that the Lucas Museum will not be built in Chicago. “A key point there, is that there was a constitutional problem with this and a federal judge cited against the City,” Korecki explains. “So whether it was the Friends of the Parks or someone else, I mean there is that component. The politics of this is fascinating, because here is a time when the very wealthy, the very connected, we said no to them. The City said, No, you can’t do this. You can’t do it here. Sorry.”

A few days ago, the police union’s Dean Angelo addressed the City club, and in a provocative speech, he said many police believe the City no longer has their backs.

“I talked to Dean Angelo a couple of weeks ago for a piece I did,” she tells us, “And he was talking about how,  some of his officers are just like, they see this big group on the corner, maybe they would have gone and like broken it up before something happens, but now they’re just kind of like yelling out the window, because they fear that just something is going to go wrong, something is going to be taken out of context and so forth. You know, of course then there’s the ACLU and there’s other forces saying, “Well, can’t you do your job without beating the snot out of someone illegally…” And there’s that disconnect, and I think there are a lot of very good police officers who maybe do just fear being wrongly accused of something.”

You can subscribe to Illinois Playbook HERE.

And you can read a full transcript of this program, in Word format, HERE: CN transcript June 30 2106

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CN June 16 2016

Killer Joe was a smash hit at Profiles Theater. The critics loved it. It’s the story of a dysfunctional family (to put it mildly) and a detective who could be hired to kill.

For the audience, it was a raw, intense experience. If it looked like the refrigerator broke through the set when lead actor (and artistic director) Darrell Cox threw another actor up against it, well, it really did.

Now, that story – and, by implication, a number of yet-untold stories about other theaters in Chicago – is being laid bare by the Chicago Reader in a detailed investigative piece by Aimee Levitt and Christopher Piatt. It’s called At Profiles Theatre the drama—and abuse—is real . Levitt, along with News Editor Robin Amer, are this week’s guests.

“It was a very big deal for them,” Amer begins. “They got a lot of accolades for this show. And the text of the play calls for a certain level of violence between the principal characters in the play, and Profiles Theater did hire a professional choreography firm to choreograph these fight scenes. For example, the script calls for the lead male actor seeming to choke one of the female leads. But what we found in our investigation was that the established professional choreography that was intended to protect the actors was thrown out after the choreography firm left. And so the fight scenes that appeared to the critics and to the audiences to just be choreographed and fake were in fact real. That the bruises on the arms of the lead actress, Somer Benson, who is one of the sources in our story, those bruises were real. The choking of her was real. When you saw one of the actors get slammed against a refrigerator on set that was real. So the protections that were supposed to exist for these actors really broke down.”

We go to theater for a variety of reasons. But in dramatic productions, we always understand – or think we do – that what we’re watching is an illusion. There is, as Amer explains, a “compact” with the audience.

“But to suddenly be told no, this woman actually is getting beaten up on stage, she’s actually being harmed. In fact, she is so traumatized that after the performance every night she can’t speak. It breaks down that compact and it in a way even makes the audience unknowingly complicit in the violence that’s being perpetrated on these actors. And I don’t think any of us who live in Chicago who love the theater, nobody wants that.”

One of the big issues at Profiles, the Reader found, was an almost complete lack of accountability. The theater was, in many ways, almost a one-man show. And that man was Darrell Cox. “Well, the actor of the performance was also oftentimes the director,” Amer explains.  “And when he wasn’t the director he was still the co-artistic director and there was no independent board of directors. So if you’re looking to appeal to people higher up in the organization to say there’s something bad happening, there was nobody to go to here.”

And the problems weren’t all confined to the stage.

“You had a powerful artistic director and lead actor who was pursuing romantic relationships with many women who came through the front door as actors and actresses,” Levitt tells us. “And that made the story very complicated because there was, you know the personal and the professional bled together. So you had women who were actresses who were starring in these productions, who were also oftentimes in romantic relationships with the artistic director. And so whatever was happening in their personal or domestic relationship was bleeding on to the stage and vice-versa.”

Why wasn’t this widely known in the acting community, we ask. The theater had been in business for thirty years.

“It was whispered,”says Levitt. People would write things on bathroom walls. Actresses would say, “Don’t go there.” They would tell each other there’s a network.”

But actors and crew members, Amer and Levitt tell us, often felt trapped.

“Nobody believes the victims,” Levitt explains, giving an example of a woman who came to the company as a teenager in a play featuring a predatory older man who has a teenaged girlfriend. Ally eventually appeared in three plays, but left under terrible circumstances, according to Levitt.

“Yes, she was a company member, and then at the end he said all these harassing things to her, and then at the end, the relationship, it turned romantic and then it got abusive and she left. And then she wanted to do something about it. She wanted to protect women. She went to her agent and her agent said, “Well I can’t do anything, but why don’t you tell somebody in power?” So she wrote an email to Erica Daniels and Martha Lavey.

Daniels and Lavey were high-powered leaders at Steppenwolf.

“And we spoke to both Erica Daniels and Martha Lavey and they confirmed that they did receive Ally’s email and that they met to discuss what if anything they could do about it,” asserts Amer. “And they told us that they felt hamstrung by the fact that Ally didn’t want to come forward and use her real name with her allegations and Martha Lavey told us, “If Ally wanted to come forward and use her full name and go public with the allegations I would have stood behind her, but because she didn’t I felt like there was nothing I could do.” And you know I think we felt it was important to document the efforts that these women had made to get somebody in the community to take their allegations seriously. But again, the point of going into all that is when something bad happens who do you go to, who can you trust? If you can’t go to the company, the head of the company, if you can’t go to the board of directors, if you can’t go to the critics who do you go to? I mean it’s no accident that they went to  women in the scene that they perceived as being in positions of power, because who else could they trust? Who could they go to for help? They didn’t know.”

But, says Aimee,  “And then the women didn’t help either.” Ally claims she never heard back from either woman.

There’s also the role of theater critics to consider. As already mentioned, the theater often received enthusiastic reviews, at least in part for the realism its shows offered. For much of that time, the article’s co-author Christopher Piatt was a critic for Time Out Chicago. Reacting to an actor’s lament that she tried to contact Dan Savage and Oprah Winfrey to tell her stories because she couldn’t trust the local critics, Piatt wrote this in a follow-up Reader piece:

“I had been one of those critics who loudly praised some of the lurid sexist shock jock melodramas Profiles produced over the years. Reading (Sue) Redmond’s explanation was devastating. It made me fully grasp my own boneheaded complicity in the story.”

“So Sue sent that email to Dan Savage in 2011 three years before Christopher ever started looking into this story,” Amer explains. “I think he especially was really heartbroken to realize that the community of actors and actresses who say that they had been abused there were too afraid to go to the theater critics in Chicago for help because they didn’t trust them.”

The Reader has set up an email tip line for people who have experienced similar cases of abuse or misconduct. It’s at Tips@chicagoreader.com.

The Reader coverage has had powerful impact. The author of what was to be the company’s next play withdrew it. And yesterday, without fanfare, Profiles announced on its website that it was closing. Forever.

You can read a full transcript of this show in Word format HERE:CN transcript June 16 2016

 

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